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Mariel Zagunis led Team USA with the American flag in the first Summer Games in which the U.S. women outnumber the men.

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Souhan: Spectacle creates a suburb to towering London

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • July 28, 2012 - 11:47 AM

LONDON - Usually, when Jacques Rogge speaks, you wonder if he has a pulse.

Friday night, you had to wonder whether the president of the International Olympic Committee had a conscience.

The Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games featured two bands, athletes representing 205 countries, the parading of the Olympic flame, modern dancers, pop stars, medleys, fireworks displays and even a living history lesson including the first-ever 2-minute summation of the Industrial Revolution.

Have to say, the Industrial Revolution has never seemed so ... choreographed?

The extravaganza lasted almost four hours. In almost four hours, Rogge couldn't find one moment to remember the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic party who were killed by terrorists 40 years ago. Not a moment of tribute. Not a moment of silence.

Other than that -- Rogge's lack of courage -- the London Olympics began with a spectacle in Olympic Park in the southeastern section of the city.

Those of us who spent the night in the heart of London instead of in the stadium can emphasize the obvious: This is not Beijing.

For the Chinese, hosting the Olympics was an expression of power. The citizens took great pride in showing off their city to the world, or were smart enough to pretend.

In most cities, even one as large and diverse as Vancouver, the Olympics dominate the landscape. In London, the Olympics are a suburb.

You can walk from Fitzrovia to Angel and see decorative signs lining wrought-iron fences, but they are subtle. You'll see a few posters. You'll see a few buildings transformed into national "houses," like Irish House and Czech House, but they are no more noticeable than the Costa coffee shops that outnumber the Starbucks here.

London is an amazing city. It's almost as populous as New York, but it lacks the canyons of skyscrapers and constant, loud thrum. It is crowded without feeling oppressive. It combines the quaintness and history of Boston with the gravitas of Washington, D.C. Walk down the streets and you can picture Sherlock Holmes or George Smiley, lost in thought, tripping over a cobblestone.

At the King and Queen pub, everyone looked like Keith Richards' sickly younger brother. It's a traditional English pub, quaint and faded, and the Brits spilled onto the street and tried to pretend they weren't that interested in the ceremony being broadcast on the modest screen, even though they were.

At the Court Pub, a younger, healthier crowd cheered at all the right moments -- except for the three guys who looked like they got kicked out of Oasis, and who mocked everyone, including the queen.

At O'Neill's and the Euston Flyer, the bars were packed with people devouring the big screens with their eyes, but at Prezzo and a half-dozen other bars and restaurants, there were no televisions.

Just when a visitor might conclude that the Olympics will be little more than a popular TV show to many Londoners, you walk down Gower Street and come upon a University College London, which calls itself "London's Global University."

Hundreds of people packed the quadrangle, sitting in front of the columns or under branches, to watch the Opening Ceremony on a large, temporary screen. They drank Carlsberg and Red Stripe and Budweiser and cheered, a new generation singing along with "My Generation."

"I like that they incorporated a different kind of music,'' said Olga Maczynska, a student from Poland. "It was quite lively. What I liked the most was all of the famous actors and all of the music."

Maczynska said the school plans to televise events in the quadrangle from 10 a.m. through the evening every day.

It was a strange sight, seeing hundreds of young people who did not have their heads bent, looking at their phones. The students seemed to speak a dozen different languages, but they laughed in the right places.

"I am looking forward to seeing the Games," Maczynska said. "This was really nice to see."

One moment, one silent moment, would have made it even better.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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